Study reveals how breathing during sleep affects memory formation

Breathing while we sleep might actually affect how our brains form memories, according to a recent study. Researchers from Germany and the UK have discovered a connection between our breathing patterns and the consolidation of memories in our brains. They found that specific sleep-related brain rhythms, such as oscillations and spindles, are linked to our breathing.

Thomas Schreiner, from the Department of Psychology at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitt Mnchen in Germany, who is also the corresponding author of the study published in the journal Nature Communications, explained, “Our results show that our breathing and the emergence of characteristic slow oscillation and spindle patterns are linked.”

Sleep spindles, which are short bursts of increased brain activity during sleep, play a crucial role in memory processing. Schreiner added, “Although other studies had already established a connection between breathing and cognition during wake, our work makes clear that respiration is also important for memory processing during sleep.”

To conduct the study, the researchers involved 20 participants who were shown 120 images associated with specific words over two sessions. Afterward, the participants slept for approximately two hours in the lab. The researchers recorded their brain activity and breathing throughout the learning and sleeping periods. Upon waking up, the participants were asked about the associations they had learned.

The findings revealed that, along with the reactivation of learned content during sleep, the “precision of these sleep-related brain rhythms increases from childhood to adolescence and then declines again during aging.”

Considering that respiratory frequency changes with age, the researchers analyzed the data on breathing and successfully established a connection between sleep-related brain activity and respiration. The team plans to investigate whether sleep disorders, respiratory disorders, and declining memory function in older individuals are linked. They also aim to explore if interventions like CPAP masks, which assist with unobstructed breathing, could benefit cognitive health.